Words are powerful. Books are powerful. (I would love to say that’s the reason I called my blog ‘of words and books’ but it isn’t; I was just trying to keep my bases covered. I know. Genius.) They can give hope, inspire us, change us, aid us in rising above the ordinary to perform the extraordinary.
They can also install a crippling – crippling! – fear of everyday objects.
My uncle and aunt’s copy of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a well-worn and battered paperback. I read it, in the quiet, sitting on the attic stairs. A dedicated bookworm, even at a young age.
Was I entranced? Did I fall in love with Narnia and the adventures of the Pevensie siblings? I’m not sure. I grew fascinated with Turkish Delight, I remember that. I still am a little.
Usually, I think, after reading about Narnia, you’d want to open every wardrobe door ever. Just in case. Just to see. You’d hold your breath a little and reach in, past the coats … just to make sure. Maybe, just maybe, adventure was waiting for you, just beyond your fingertips.
But me? OH HECK NO.
Coming into the room? The doors are open?! Close them. You know. Just in case.
Open the doors to retrieve clothing? Better make sure those doors are closed.
Going to bed? CLOSE DEM DOORS!
I can still almost see what I feared the most – the White Witch, bursting through my white wardrobe doors on a chariot drawn by snarling creatures, arm raised with whip in hand, her expression most terrible.
I thought she was waiting behind the wardrobe. Waiting for me to forget to close the doors. Waiting for that sliver of light to appear. Waiting for me.
So the wardrobe doors were shut, lest worlds seep through and threaten my very existence.
One would think that one fear from the literary realm would be enough; one burden to haunt a little girl was sufficient. An active imagination is somewhat of a curse and a blessing … and occasionally a hinderance to visiting the bathroom.
At night, I wasn’t afraid of the toilet, or of the windowsill, or of the mirror from which my dark reflection would glance back. But rather, what might be laid out in the bath, waiting for me, morgue blue, eyes wide, and really quite dead.
Whose Body? is a delightful book – I’ve since reread it. I wasn’t terrified in the least. But to a young girl who listens avidly as an innocent person walks into their bathroom and discovers a A RANDOM CORPSE IN THEIR BATHTUB … well it didn’t take long to connect the dots.
- My house had a bath
- My house had a roof
- Ergo, my house could have a corpse
[LOGIC STRIKES AGAIN!]
It was terrifying. Answering the call of nature at night became a fraught experience. Even when it wasn’t night-time, a suspicious glance at the bath first just had to be given. To make sure, you know.
I knew how it could be done, you see. Someone could – quite legitimately – drag a corpse over the rooftops and dispose of it in our tub: they would, perhaps, start at our next door neighbour’s roof with the body and then jump across to our’s. Then with gymnastics worthy of an Olympian, they’d climb through the narrow slit of the bathroom window with the body and deposit the body in our bath.
And there I would find it.
Gradually I grew up and forgot to be afraid, but I shan’t forget those nighttime trips and those quick, fearing glances at the bathtub, and that moment when you’d hopped into bed, well you’d better get out again – the wardrobe doors were cracked slightly open.
Sticks and stones may break bones, but words will invoke wardrobes and bathtubs and they will always haunt you.
Or at least, they will until childhood slips away little by little.